Americanization: An American Idea That Works

By | 2018-08-04T19:43:16+00:00 August 5th, 2018|
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The Trump Era is iconoclastic as much as it is mythoclastic, with one chimera slain after another. But some lies die harder than others.

Alex Nowrasteh, the Cato Institute’s senior immigration policy analyst, is a self-described “Globalist [and] Elitist.” Who better to lecture Americans on patriotism?

Recently, Nowrasteh joined the chorus lambasting Michael Anton’s Washington Post op-ed against birthright citizenship. Nowrasteh carefully couches the term “assimilation” beside patriotic sayings of Ronald Reagan. Because “assimilation” is as effective a process as it has ever been, argues Nowrasteh, then there really is no reason to fret over mass immigration—let alone birthright citizenship.

But there is nothing patriotic or even “American” about Nowrasteh’s idea of assimilation. This is not a stretch. Assimilation and Americanization are not the same thing to Nowrasteh. He says so himself:

Even though the evidence of immigration assimilation should comfort skeptics, some have proposed massive new government programs to help boost immigrant assimilation. However, evidence from the early 20th century Americanization Movement suggests that such efforts will fail or that they could even backfire and make new immigrants and their descendants less culturally and patriotically American.

“In the absence of empirical evidence supporting the effectiveness of the Americanization Movement,” claims Nowrasteh, “its supporters should be agnostic instead of calling for its revival. There are plenty of anecdotes that the Americanization Movement slowed assimilation by creating resentment among the immigrants who were the intended beneficiaries.”

Assimilation, to Nowrasteh, means how well foreigners can take on the roles of American citizens, regardless of whether they themselves are patriotic—which Nowrasteh does not think we shouldn’t encourage them to be.

In fact, Nowrasteh believes that the Americanization campaign of the early 20th century was an abject failure, so we shouldn’t entertain the idea of reviving it. Further, because he claims that there is no data to support that Americanization worked, Nowrasteh presents a selection of anecdotes in the form of old newspaper clippings from the ethnic press, quotes critics of Americanization, and, of course, throws in the obligatory mentions of the Ku Klux Klan and “Prussianism.”

“The Spirit of America”
Advocates of Americanization held to the traditional American belief that education provides the people of a democracy with the implements they need to become industrious, enlightened citizens. When faced with mass immigration at the turn of the 20th century, these Americans saw public schooling as a means of Americanizing the immigrant masses.

Teaching immigrants English language arts, instilling in them a respect for our republic, for the law, justice, and republican government was once considered an obvious necessity toward the ultimate ends: “To change the unskilled inefficient immigrant into the skilled worker and efficient citizen, to strike at the cause of poverty, to improve the environment and the spirit of America, the knowledge, of America, and the love of America and one’s fellow-men into the millions gathered here from the ends of the earth.”

In cities, where the urban immigrant masses coalesced, night schools for adults and kindergarten programs for children sprang up, along with compulsory-education laws requiring schooling until age 14. As a result, the number of public school enrollments skyrocketed from 6.9 million in 1870 to 17.8 million by 1910.

“The kindergarten age,” wrote one reformer, “marks our earliest opportunity to catch the little Russian, the little Italian, the little German, Pole, Syrian, and the rest, and begin to make good American citizens of them.” He went on:

You know the work of the hands is lifted from boredom and degradation; and that the idea of service—household service and all other—is ennobled. You know that it is instilled into the tender brain that there is a right way to do things, and that it is worth while to do things in the right way. You know how cleanliness and courtesy are taught, and mutual helpfulness; and many other things are useful, joyous, refining.

Millions of students attended parochial schools established by the Catholics and Jews. “The Roman Catholic Church,” wrote Edward George Hartmann, “used its clergy, schools, press, charity, institutions, and fraternal organizations to persuade immigrants to give up their foreign cultural patterns and conform to American cultural customs.”

Archbishop John Ireland . . . an Irish immigrant, was a leader among the Americanization bishops. . . . He struggled against the efforts of immigrant Catholics to preserve their languages and traditions. Jewish settlement houses developed in many cities to encourage jewish immigrant children to learn American ways, to attend public school, and to preserve their identity within American parameters.

What Nowrasteh deliberately neglects to acknowledge is that immigrants, like Archbishop Ireland, wanted to Americanize, because it meant acceptance, prosperity, stability, and because, above all else, they believed in “the American way” that made so many good things possible.

On July 4, 1918, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers turned out to witness more than 70,000 marchers parade down Fifth Avenue, including Indians. No less than 40 national-origin groups from New York’s immigrant community constituted the core of the event, among them: 18 Haitians, 10,000 Italians, 10,000 Jews—drawn from the 50,000 Italians and 50,000 Jews who wanted to participate in the march. Germans carried signs that read: “America is our fatherland” and “Born in Germany, Made in America,” Greeks, Irish, Croatians, Hungarians, Slovenes, Serbs, Lithuanians, and Poles marched beneath a banner proclaiming: “Uncle Sam is our uncle.” Russians wore red, white, and blue outfits, Venezuelans performed the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the Chinese dressed up like an American baseball team.

Covering the event was a journalist for the New York Times, who described the spectacle as a “kaleidoscopic pageant, now bright with splendid costumes, now drab with long columns of civilians, marching with a solemnity of spirit that brought its meaning home impressively to those who looked on, there was slowly woven a picture of fighting America of today, a land of many bloods, but one ideal.”

No doubt Nowrasteh would agree with the miserable ethnic press he cited, that this all “smacks decidedly of Prussianism, and it is not at all in accordance with American ideals of freedom.”

Remembering How Latinos Used to Assimilate
It is curious that we hear the loudest yelps for “American ideals of freedom” from those who would see America divided.

This drive for Americanization, bolstered by a renewed fervor for widespread education, was so effective that by 1920, the United States essentially had achieved universal literacy—a process which was carried on by organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Founded to assimilate Latinos into Anglo-Protestant culture and the oldest existing organization of its kind, the League’s constitution is modeled on the United States Constitution, it has its official song “America,” its official language is English, and its official prayer is the “George Washington Prayer.” Not only does the League place (or, rather, it once placed) a premium on Americanization, unlike Nowrasteh, but the former president of the League supports Trump, unlike Nowrasteh. Where Nowrasteh is lukewarm when it comes to patriotism, Roger Rocha, Jr. is not—although that patriotism has cost him his executive position.

But LULAC’s work, when it was truly dedicated to the American cause, did much good. According to a Pepperdine study, by 1970, the typical Latino in Southern California spoke only English and had fully assimilated into Anglo-Protestant culture. But times have changed and Americanization is now under attack.

In truth, Nowrasteh’s preferred version of America is one that resembles multiculturalism more than anything else. The multicultural ethos had no salience until the 1960s, and really exploded in the 1990s. Take it from the critics of Americanization.

Harold Cuse—a communistcomplained that “America is a nation that lies to itself about who and what it is. It is a nation of minorities ruled by a minority of one—it thinks and acts as if it were a nation of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.” Cuse lamented that Americanization “effectively dissuaded, crippled and smothered the cultivation of democratic cultural pluralism in America.” So effective was the discouragement of cultural pluralism, that Milton Gordon remarked Americanization of immigrants into Anglo-Protestant cultural patterns “has probably been the most prevalent ideology of assimilation in the American historical experience”—not a melting pot, but a “transmuting pot.” Critics can decry this as cruel, but there’s no denying that it worked. Indeed, until the advent of post-1965 mass immigration, the United States was a nation of some 200 million people who virtually all spoke English.

Naturalization and English Ability as a Marker of Americanization?
We have established that Americanization worked, transforming the immigrant, as one scholar wrote, into a “patriotic, loyal, and intelligent supporter of the great body of principles and practices which the leaders of the movement chose to consider ‘America’s priceless heritage.’” But how does Nowrasteh’s notion of “assimilation” hold up against the truth?

Two of the indicators that Nowrasteh uses as “proof” of assimilation—different from Americanization—of immigrants into American society are naturalization rates and English-speaking ability. But a closer look at America’s largest immigrant group, Latinos, and Mexicans in particular, reveals a very different picture.

There 65.5 million people in America who report speaking a language other than English at home. Spanish is the “other language” for 62 percent—around 40 million people. As of 2016, there are 26.1 million individuals in the United States, ages five and older, who report speaking English “not at all,” “not well,” or “well,” collectively classified as Limited English Proficient (LEP). Spanish speakers account for 64 percent (16.6 million) of the LEP population.

What happens when first, second, and third generation immigrants live in predominantly Spanish-speaking communities in the United States? Consider California, where the largest number of LEP individuals reside—a full 26 percent of the nation’s total—and there is not a single county in which a majority of Latino students are proficient in English. Never before in the history of the United States have so many people spoken a single non-English language in such large numbers, yet Nowrasteh would lead us to believe that this is in keeping with American “principles.”

What of naturalization rates? Lawful Mexican immigrants have the lowest naturalization rates of any group, at 42 percent. According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2015, the naturalization rate among eligible immigrants from Mexico was similar to those from Honduras (43 percent) and Guatemala (44 percent). In a survey administered by Pew, 35 percent of Mexican immigrants cited “[a] lack of English proficiency” as the main reason that they have not naturalized. The second most common reason? “Have not tried yet or not interested,” so say 31 percent of all Mexicans.

The foreign-born of America’s top sending country have abysmal rates of naturalization. But what else could be behind low naturalization rates? “Close geographic proximity of origin countries to the U.S. may lower naturalization rates,” reports Pew, “in part because immigrants from countries near the U.S. are more likely to maintain strong ties to their countries of origin.” Immigrants from Latin America have lower naturalization rates because they get to enjoy most of the benefits that citizens do, without having to go through the work of becoming a citizen.

Unpatriotic Globalist
All things considered, one must wonder why it is that Nowrasteh is so misleading about the process by which millions of immigrants became patriotic, English-speaking, prosperous Americans; or why he considers it to be odious that immigrants learn the right way to live as good citizens and amicable members of the community.

Why would Nowrasteh make such misleading claims about what he considers “assimilation”? One thing is clear: Americanization was successful, benefitting millions of immigrants and this nation.

Although Americanization has come under attack in recent history, it lives on, to the chagrin of globalists and race hucksters alike.

In a recent column, Gustavo Arellano laments that in pockets of Los Angeles, as Latinos move into the middle class, they adopt “the same mores as their white peers.” Arellano gripes over the fact that as immigrants assimilate into Anglo-Protestant culture, they are less likely to identify with immigrants who have not; that is to say, he is upset that they will no longer identify with “La Raza.” Arellano duplicitously claims that this assimilation is “destiny” and like Nowrasteh, argues there’s no reason to fret over immigration.

At the core of this argument is nationalism, without which, there can be no patriotism. For what is a patriot without a nation to pledge allegiance to? “To substitute internationalism for nationalism,” said Teddy Roosevelt, “means to do away with patriotism.” If immigrants and their children are Americanized, then they, too, will chant “America First.” This is bad for individuals like Nowrasteh, who, being in the business of keeping Americans divided, would find himself with very few friends in America united.

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About the Author:

Pedro Gonzalez
Pedro Gonzalez is assistant editor of American Greatness and a Mount Vernon Fellow of the Center for American Greatness.